A man of all mediums, this veteran, Manhattan-born character actor was named after his great-grandfather, Lincolnesque Congressman William Windom. Born in 1923, the son of Paul Windom, an architect, and the former Isobel Wells Peckham, Bill attended Williams College and the University of Kentucky, among others, before serving in the Army during WWII. After the war, he studied at both Fordham and Columbia universities in New York City before settling on an acting career. Trained at the American Repertory Theatre (1946-1961), he made his minor Broadway debut with the company in November of 1946 with revolving productions of "Henry VIII", "What Every Woman Knows", "John Gabriel Borkman" and "Androcles and the Lion". The following year, he continued building up his Broadway resume with roles in "Yellow Jack" and as the "White Rabbit" in a production of "Alice in Wonderland".
In the early 1950s, a new avenue opened up to Bill: television. For the duration of the decade, he shifted between stage, which included Broadway roles in "A Girl Can Tell" (1953), "Mademoiselle Colombe" (1954), "Fallen Angels" (1956), "The Greatest Man Alive" (1957) and "Viva Madison Avenue!" (1960), and TV drama, with stalwart work in such programs as "Robert Montgomery Presents" (1950) and "Hallmark Hall of Fame" (1951).
Major attention came Windom's way on TV moving into the following decade. In addition to hundreds of guest appearances on the most popular shows of the day ("Combat!" (1962), "The Fugitive" (1963), "All in the Family" (1971), "Dallas" (1978), "Highway to Heaven" (1984)), his standout work included a co-starring role opposite the luminous Inger Stevens in the popular light comedy series "The Farmer's Daughter" (1963). On the show, Windom portrayed widower "Glenn Morley", a decent congressman who eventually falls in love with his pert and pretty Swedish governess "Katy Holstrum" (played by Stevens). Prior to this success, both he and Ms. Stevens had been singularly recognized for their sterling performances on various episodes of "Twilight Zone" (1959). Following this success, Windom enjoyed critical notice as the cartoonist/protagonist whose vivid imagination causes problems on the homefront on the Thurberesque weekly series "My World and Welcome to It" (1969). Despite the show's critical merit and Windom's "Best Actor" Emmy win, the show, years ahead of its time, lasted only one season. Decades later, Windom would play James Thurber on stage in one-man shows.
The native New Yorker went on to essay a number of loungy Southerners and down-home types with incredible ease--both heroes and villains. He offered strong support in his film debut as Gregory Peck's opposing counsel in the Alabama-based To Kill a Mockingbird (1962), and went on to play prelate Norman Vincent Peale's father in One Man's Way (1964) starring Don Murray. Windom demonstrated the maturity to carry off the character even though he was only 5 years older than Murray. He also delivered a variety of pungent roles in such films as The Detective (1968) (as a closeted gay married man), Robert Altman's Brewster McCloud (1970) (as a mayor facing a series of murders) and The Man (1972) (as a racist politician).
Growing slier and stockier over the years, Windom provided TV audiences with a colorful gallery of characters, ranging from avuncular and ingratiating, to cantankerous and unscrupulous. He became a regular for over a decade on the Angela Lansbury whodunit series "Murder, She Wrote" (1984), joining the show in its second season as "Dr. Seth Hazlitt". He briefly left "Murder" to work on another series, "Parenthood" (1990), which was based on the highly popular 1989 movie starring Steve Martin. Here, Ed Begley Jr. took over the Martin part and Windom assumed Jason Robards's patriarchal role as Begley's father. The show was off the air within a few months, however, and Windom was invited back to the mystery series -- a semi-regular until the show folded in 1997.
In addition, Windom reprised a "Star Trek" (1966) portrayal as "Commodore Matt Decker," appeared in scores of mini-movies, has given voice to various book readings, presented a second one-man show (this time that of combat reporter Ernie Pyle), and continued to film at age 80+, his latest being Yesterday's Dreams (2005).
The five-times-married Windom was wed (for 36 years) to writer Patricia Veronica Tunder at the time of his death of congestive heart failure at age 88. A chess, tennis and sailing enthusiast, he is survived by four children: Rachel, Heather Juliet, Hope and Rebel Russell, as well as four grandchildren. He died at his home in Woodacre, California, on August 16, 2012.
|Patricia Veronica Tunder||(31 December 1975 - 16 August 2012) (his death) 1 child|
|Jacqulyn Hopkins||(8 August 1969 - June 1975) (divorced) 2 children|
|Barbara Goetz||(12 April 1963 - July 1968) (divorced) 1 child|
|Barbara Joyce||(30 June 1958 - March 1963) (divorced)|
|Carol Keyser||(10 August 1947 - December 1955) (divorced)|
Five-year-old William Windom was a pupil of kindergarten teacher Margaret Hamilton until she threw him out for rambunctious behavior.
His great grandfather, politician William Windom (1827-1891), served in both the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate as a Republican for Minnesota; later became Secretary of the Treasury under James Garfield and Benjamin Harrison. His own character of Glen Morley in "The Farmer's Daughter" (1963) was also a congressman from Minnesota.
During World War II, he served in the U.S. Army with the 508th parachute infantry.
Married five times, he has four children: Rachel, Heather Juliet, Hope and Rebel Russell, the youngest.
Windom bought a small island for $1.00 in Windom, Minnesota, so named for his great-grandfather, a one-time member of Lincoln's Kitchen Cabinet. The island's a wildlife refuge.
He's owned seven different small boats since 1953 and won numerous sailing trophies.
Has been profiled in Chess Life magazine twice (he is a tournament player with a penchant for unusual openings; one of his positions had turned up in a Chess Life problem column before the magazine interviewed him). The second time, in 1988, he appeared with his friend, Claude Akins (who had been on "Murder, She Wrote" (1984) as "Captain Ethan Craig" the season before Windom became "Dr. Seth Hazlitt") playing a game in Windom's back yard. During an interview for the article, Windom said that he planned to have a large Rook (the castle-shaped piece) made of Nubian marble and cap it with a compass rose, "and one day my ashes will be buried underneath it".
Was a tournament-level chess player.
Can be heard promoting his show "the farmer's daughter" shortly before ABC news preempted programming with the news of President John F. Kennedy's assassination on Nov 22, 1963.
There are two essentials, two and two only, to have any performance in the world in any medium. One is the audience and two is the author. The rest fills in. The two essentials are someone to have the idea to say it and someone to hear it. Without either one of those two, you have nothing.
Likable plus 45 cents gets you a cup of coffee. They want something that's effectively the same. As an actor, you make money by having them know exactly who you are and what you're gonna do and that's what they come back to see again in one form or another. I'm not a star; there are only about 25 stars in the whole world. You run into trouble even with people like Liv Ullmann, a fine actress, but how many people in Africa ever heard of or care about Liv Ullmann? It's good acting, wonderful, so who cares? Bring on Mickey Mouse.
I maintain that 90 percent of what you do in this world whether it's bagels you eat, clothes you wear, adults you meet when you're little, plays you go to or are in, 90 percent is horsecrap. Five percent is just godawful and you wish you could forget it, five percent is memorable, so you better enjoy the horsecrap because nine out of ten hours in your life are gonna be spent in horsecrap. So fine, but don't go around giving it first prizes! The first prizes are too valuable -- they're really for only for that five percent -- of people, food, clothing, time, weather, age -- whatever you want to name in your life.
"You have a nice time because people are very nice, basically. I travel a lot and I see a great many of them in all parts of the country and it's always a treat. Everybody has something worthwhile to offer, for at least ten seconds, maybe ten hours, maybe ten years, whatever, but they all have that spark that's worthwhile." (on being interviewed all over the world)
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